Home > Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Politics > $afety Fir$t: Traffic Cameras and You

$afety Fir$t: Traffic Cameras and You

Note: This is a repost and edit of an entry I wrote for my prior blog, Are You Kidding Me?.

I have a pet peeve that I must get off my chest: Traffic cameras. They drive me nuts. But before I lay into them, let me give you some background.

I have a long-standing pet peeve: Sham enforcement of traffic laws. It’s clearly not about safety; it’s about raising revenue for the state. Essentially, it’s a tax wrapped up in a dishonest justification. And that would be fine (and Constitutional) if there weren’t punishment attached to the fine. For some of them, you could have your license revoked, your record tarnished (higher insurance rates, anyone?), and even have to serve jail time.

Now, some of you might be thinking, “But Rob, it’s about safety.”

No, it isn’t. If it were about safety, traffic laws wouldn’t be enforced randomly. If it were about safety, people would be stopped for crossing over solid white lines and running stop signs, relatively low-cost violations, instead of “speeding.” I put speeding in quotes because if the speed limit for I-95 in southern Virginia is less than 90 mph, than the speed limit isn’t about safety. It’s about $afety.

Your response might be, “But Rob, I was driving in the 1920’s, and in my day . . . .”

Well, stop right there old timer. If you were driving in those days, you were used to cars with suspension systems (among other things) that are vastly inferior to what’s built today. The technology is different, and it makes driving easier. Ever drive, or even ride in, a Porsche? The ride is so smooth that 60 mph feels like 20 mph. Literally. I though we were going 20 mph, and the driver pointed out that we were just over 60mph. However, even in my 2002 Mustang, I can safely drive 81 mph (easily) on I-95 in southern Virginia on a clear day. Well, guess what? According to § 46.2-862, that’s reckless driving, which according to § 46.2-868, is a Class 1 misdemeanor, a criminal offense punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2500 fine (§ 18.2-11). (Your state’s laws are probably similar.) I won’t get a year in jail for my first offense, but am I really a criminal?

Okay, so that brings me to traffic cameras. Most cameras designed to catch speeders are in areas where the limit clearly shouldn’t be 90 mph, and red light cameras are trying to stop a real danger. Sounds great, huh? Well, I’m suspicious, so let’s dig deeper.

You should know about this little thing called “service of process,” which seems to be lacking in these cases. Pay careful attention to what I’ve said there: “service of process.” I didn’t say “due process,” which is a different idea. Lawmakers have “set up a strawman” (an argument no one disagrees with, so that it’ll seem they won something) by claiming guys like me are yelling, “due process violation.” Ignore that. Despite hearing many people defend against the argument for lack of due process, I’ve never heard a single person ever make it. (EDIT: Found one. See link below from the Washington Times.) We’re talking service of process (EDIT: Or at least I am. :-)).

So what is it? If you’re sued by someone or accused of a crime, you must be “served.” This has nothing to do with dancing in South Park, Colorado. It means there must be a reliable way the other party gives you notice of the law suit. Otherwise, I could sue you, never tell you about it, and win by default because you never showed up even if my law suit was a sham.

What about violations of the cameras? Is there ever service of process? The answer is no. They just mail you the ticket. They just send a ticket to the owner of the car (who may not have even been driving), telling them that they either pay a $50-$100 fine, or take a day off from work (which costs even more) to defend themselves in court. They don’t even bother to spend the extra money for registered mail to at least prove someone received the notice. (That still wouldn’t be good, because it wouldn’t prove that the right person received the notice, but it would be a little better.)

Why do they do this? Because they know most people will say, “To hell with this,” and just pay it. Nice little scam, huh?

But wait! It gets worse! This is supposedly about safety, right? Some jurisdictions (example) have actually shortened the time a yellow light lasts. Now why would they do that? The longer the yellow light, the easier it is to react to it, so shortening it makes things a little less safe by giving people less time to stop. However, it also results in more violations, doesn’t it? More people will accidentally run a red light. For those that stop, they’ll be forced to stop a little more suddenly, which would likely increase fender benders. So why do it?

Can you gue$$?

On top of this, many jurisdictions are using private companies to maintain the cameras and pass out the tickets. With no requirement to serve process, and all that incentive to send out more tickets, what did you expect?

And now – finally – here’s the worst part. Most people seem to be against these cameras, yet the cameras are popping up everywhere. If we’re a democracy, and the majority opposes these cameras, why aren’t they gone yet?

Think about it. These cameras don’t rise to the level of slavery or concentration camps, but doesn’t it at least bother you a little bit that your opinion doesn’t seem to matter? Government and the voters are both caught up in the big issues, like gun control, abortion, etc., so they don’t afford traffic laws a high priority. This seems like a good argument for decentralizing government even further, placing more responsibility in the hands of county and town governments, but with the trend being in the opposite direction (i.e., more and more government functions shifting from the states to the federal government), that’s an argument for a later time. With so many bigger fish to fry, it seems unlikely that this will ever change unless the system changes. Again, how to change the system itself is an argument for a later time.

In the meantime, $afety Fir$t.

Some data: How short should yellow lights be? Answer.
Are they unsafe? A US House of Representatives report sponsored by Dick Armey says yes.
Another interesting (and recent) article on the danger of red light cameras: Do Red Light Cameras Reduce Accidents?

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  1. December 1, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    This blog made me smile then and it makes me smile now. I’ve used it in arguments before and I think I’ll pick one soon so I can do so again. Still a rousing ‘bravo’ for this.

  2. July 24, 2015 at 2:58 pm

    Reblogged this on The Property Attorney and commented:
    The Fairfax County Police just issued a news release with respect to yet another red light camera going up in the county. Who voted for these cameras?

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kessel korner

bits that rattle around in my brain

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